Insurance coverage Q&A: Who can drive a deceased policyholder’s car?

In Maryland Casualty Co. v. Martinez, the insured had died and the brother-in-law of the insured’s caretaker was driving the vehicle at the time of an accident. The court found that the insurer did not have to provide a defense since neither the surviving spouse nor the legal representative were driving the vehicle at the time of loss. (Credit: Kzenon/Shutterstock.com)

We had an insured pass away and his son continued paying his auto insurance premium and allowing his grandson to drive the only listed auto on this policy. Do you see any coverage concerns with this? Any grounds for denial?

— Ohio Subscriber

Upon the death of the insured, the form states that coverage transfers to the surviving spouse if that spouse is a resident of the household at the time of death, or the legal representative of the deceased as if a named insured.

For the legal representative, coverage applies with respect to the representative’s legal responsibility to maintain or use “your covered auto.” What exactly is the responsibility to maintain or use the vehicle is the question. However, courts are clear that coverage extends to the legal representative or surviving spouse only.

If Maryland Casualty Co. v. Martinez, the insured had died and the brother-in-law of the insured’s caretaker was driving the vehicle at the time of an accident. The court found that the insurer did not have to provide a defense since neither the surviving spouse nor the legal representative were driving the vehicle at the time of loss.

Grinnell Select Ins. Co. v. Cont’l W. Ins. Co., is similar: The daughter of the deceased insured allowed an uninsured person to drive the vehicle and that person had an accident. The policy provisions stated that coverage extended to a surviving spouse or a legal representative; the uninsured driver was neither. The court found that there was no one qualified in this situation to receive the extension of coverage.

If Oroian v. Allstate Ins. Co., the personal representative allowed another person to use the deceased’s vehicle; the driver had an accident in the vehicle. The court affirmed the lower court’s position and held that since the driver was using the vehicle for personal and not estate-related purposes, that he was not entitled to coverage.

Unless the grandson has been appointed legal representative of the estate, I don’t see any coverage for the grandson in this situation.

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